Winter 2024 Courses and Descriptions

CVEC is offering fifteen wonderful courses, ten in person and five via Zoom. This page contains (1) a summary listing of the title, instructor, time and place of each course, and (2) a full description of each course with a brief biography of each instructor.

Start by scrolling down the list of courses. When you want to view the full information about a course and instructor, click on the “down” arrow near the right-hand margin of the page opposite the course name. The full course description will appear immediately below, and the arrow you clicked will become an “up” arrow. To hide the course description again, click on that “up” arrow and the course description will again be hidden.

Susan Evans: Braiding Sweetgrass—Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants
8 Mondays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., January 8-February 26
NCCC, Enrollment Limit: 15
Susan Evans
Susan Evans

Susan Evans grew up as the daughter of an ecologist and a reference librarian and has always felt the pull between book learning and direct experience of the natural world. She has degrees in Literature and Theology and is a Spiritual Director. Sue has led adults in discussions of spirituality and literature for most of her adult life, including through CVEC in a course focused on novels by Louise Erdrich. She is currently chair of the CVEC Board.

Overview:  In Braiding Sweetgrass, a beautiful and deeply wise book by Robin Kimmerer, we find a shaped assortment of essays braided together, as Kimmerer says, and “meant to heal our relationship with the world.” The three strands that are braided together in these essays are “Indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most. . .” We will be reading these stories carefully, discussing how they relate to each other and to our own experiences in the world. Robin Kimmerer is an excellent guide, having a deep relationship with native spirituality, years of experience as a botanist and Professor of Environmental Biology, and a poet’s ability to translate between her two worlds. She gives her readers the tools to open themselves to the healing joy experienced by living in a reciprocal relationship with the natural world.

Course Materials and Class Schedule: Participants will be expected to read the weekly assignments of approximately 50 pages, and come to class prepared to discuss Kimmerer’s writing and their own responses to her essays. We will learn from each other as well as from Kimmerer. Additional information will be distributed and used to deepen our discussion as seems appropriate. Students will be expected to purchase a copy of Braiding Sweetgrass, which is widely available for purchase either new ($13.25) or used and can be borrowed through the library. Copies will be available for purchase at Content Books.

Week 1: Before class read Preface through page 32 in Braiding Sweetgrass. We will spend the first portion of class introducing ourselves by each describing the landscape of our childhood and how it has influenced our lives.
Week 2: Read pages 33-59.
Week 3: Read pages 60-117.
Week 4: Read pages 118-174.
Week 5: Read pages 171-240.
Week 6: Read pages 241- 300.
Week 7: Read pages 301- 347.
Week 8: Read to the end of the book, including Epilogue, Notes, and Acknowledgements.

John Barbour: Travel and Ethics
8 Mondays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., January 8-February 26
Online via Zoom, Enrollment limit: 15

John Barbour was a professor of Religion at St. Olaf College for 36 years until his retirement in 2018. His academic field is Religion and Literature, focusing on the modern novel and religious autobiography. He has written five scholarly books and Renunciation: A Novel. John has taught CVEC courses on Middlemarch, the novels of Marilynne Robinson, Religious Conversion, and Conscience in Literature.

Overview:  This course examines ethical issues raised by travel and various ethical perspectives on these issues. We consider the ethics of pilgrimage in two religious traditions and contemporary expressions of “spiritual pilgrimage.” We read several anthropological studies that interpret and evaluate forms of tourism. Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place offers a local person’s perspective on Caribbean tourism. We end the course with stories about coming home and the question of what it means to travel with a conscience.

Course Materials and Class Schedule: The course will involve guided discussion of multiple writings. Two required texts, available on-line at or at Northfield’s Content bookstore: Sharon Gmelch and Adam Kaul, Tourists and Tourism: A Reader, third edition (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2018), available used on for less than $44;Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000), available on new for less than $10 or used for less than $5. All other readings will be sent to the class either as a pdf document or by a link to the web.

Week 1:  Pilgrimage in Christianity and Buddhism. Encyclopedia of Religion, 7145-54 and 7163-68; Graham Tomlin, “Protestants and Pilgrimage”; John Bunyan, from Pilgrim’s Progress;T. S Eliot, “Journey of the Magi”; Oliver Statler, from “Japanese Pilgrimage”; Bardwell Smith, “In Contrast to Sentimentality: Buddhist and Christian Sobriety”

Week 2: Contemporary Spiritual Travel. William Maxwell, “Pilgrimage” (1953); Elizabeth Bishop, “Questions of Travel”; Siv Ellen Kraft, “Religion and Spirituality in Lonely Planet’s India”; Mary Lane Potter, “Feeding the Spirit”; Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel”; Alain de Botton, “On Anticipation” and “On Habit” from The Art of Travel. [optional: Michael Hill, “Inca of the Blood, Inca of the Soul: Embodiment, Emotion, and Racialization in the Peruvian Mystical Tourist Industry” (2008)]

Week 3: Anthropological Perspectives on Tourism. Articles in Tourists and Tourism:Sharon Gmelch, “Why Tourism Matters”; Nelson Graburn, “Secular Ritual: A General Theory of Tourism”; Dean MacCannell, “Staged Authenticity”; Edward Bruner, “The Masai and the Lion King”

Week 4: Evaluating Tourism. In Tourists and Tourism: George Gmelch, “Let’s Go Europe: Students as Tourists”; Rami Isaac, “From Pilgrimage to Dark Tourism: A New Kind of Tourism in Palestine”; Lynn Horton, “Community-Based Ecotourism in Costa Rica: Who Benefits?”; Ralf Buckley, “In Search of the Narwhal: Ethical Dilemmas in Ecotourism”; Ross Klein, “Dreams and Realities: A Critical Look at the Cruise Ship Industry”

Week 5: A Caribbean perspective. Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place

Week 6: Evaluating Tourism. In Tourists and Tourism:; Amit Sengupta, “Medical Tourism: Reverse Subsidy for the Elite”; Denise Brennan, “When Sex Tourists and Sex Workers Meet”; Elizabeth Garland, “Rethinking Volunteer Tourism”; Paul Lindholdt, “Tidings from the Virus,” from his Interrogating Travel (2023). [optional: David Foster Wallace’s “Shipping Out” (Harpers, 1996)]

Week 7: Stories about cross-cultural communication and about coming home. Jane Bowles, “Everything is Nice”; Paul Theroux, “Yard Sale”; Bill Holm, from Coming Home Crazy; Jane Smiley, “Long Distance”; Phil Cousineau, “Bringing Back the Boon”

Week 8: Traveling with a Conscience. John Barbour “Tourist Traps and Guilt Trips” (2005);Rick Steves, “How to Travel as a Political Act” (2009); Robert Kaplan, “Being There,” The Atlantic (Nov. 2012); Mary Midgely, “Trying Out One’s New Sword”; “When, if Ever, is it Unethical to Visit a Country?” New York Times Style Magazine (2019); Internet research Responsible Tourism, e. g. Conclusions: how do we each evaluate our past traveling and plan future travel?

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
–T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Rich Noer: Light Fantastic
8 Mondays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., January 8-February 26
VOC, Enrollment limit: 20

Rich Noer taught physics for 38 years at Carleton. Courses connecting physics with the (other) humanities, usually through history and philosophy, were a special interest. His seven previous courses in the Elder Collegium continued this interest.

Overview:  Yes, I know – “the light fantastic” ordinarily refers to dancing. But the phrase will work here too: Of the five senses, the most important in revealing the world in which we live is sight — and light is the messenger for sight. In this course we’ll explore the many ways that people’s understanding of that messenger has danced around from “primitive” times to the present — as emanations from our eyes as we scan the world, to emanations and reflections from external objects that are decoded by our eyes and brain. And we’ll study how those emanations have danced in people’s minds – from flowing bits of matter to vibrating stresses in the ether to fields oscillating in the vacuum of empty space…to quantum photons “conspiring” to look like fields. Do we now have the true understanding?

Course Materials and Class Schedule:  Our text will be Light: A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age, by Bruce Watson – a decent reference for the “facts” of past and present understanding of light. However, though Watson has written several books of popular-level nonfiction, this is his first on a scientific topic, and his often naive characterizations of how scientific ideas change betrays a lack of background in the history and philosophy of science. So much the better for some interesting class discussions. I’ll assign about half the book, omitting chapters that stray from the main focus of our course, and I may distribute occasional supplementary articles by email. The book appears to be out of print, but new copies are available at around $20, and many used copies can be had for $5 to $8 (e.g., 

Classes will consist mainly of informal lectures, easily interrupted by student questions and comments. There will be occasional demonstrations. Most of the class time will be devoted to discussing the relevant ideas and results in ways intended to clarify and expand on the week’s readings. Below is a provisional schedule; in the event of changes, a revised version will be distributed shortly before the first class.

Jan. 8:  Ancient ideas of light: Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, Al-Kindi, Al-Hatham.           Chapters 1,2, and 4

Jan. 15: Medieval views (16-17th centuries): Francis Bacon, Kepler, Descartes, Fermat.     Chapter 7

Jan. 22: Light as particles (17th century): Roger Bacon on methodology; Hooke, Newton, Huygens argue for particles.     Chapter 8

Jan. 29: Light as waves (18th century): Iceland spar (Newton vs Huygens). Interference, diffraction, color (Young, Malus & others argue for waves).   Chapter 10

Feb. 5: Light as electromagnetic waves (19th century): Electric and magnetic fields become real (Faraday, Maxwell). Maxwell’s prediction of electromagnetic waves and their speed.           Chapter 12

Feb. 12: Laboratory tests (17-19th centuries): Speed measurements from Galileo to Romer & others. Laboratory production of electromagnetic waves (Hertz). Electromagnetic spectrum.     Chapter 13

Feb. 19: The ether as the light medium (19th century): The ether assumption. Michelson-Morley failure to detect the ether.     Chapter 13

Feb. 26: Relativity destroys the ether, quantum physics subdues the waves (20th century): Einstein’s theories of relativity and of quantum phenomena. Photon particles as the fundamental light messengers.     Chapter 13

David Nitz: “Astronomy 101.” Introduction to the Sky and the Stars
(Repeat of Fall 2022 Course) 
8 Tuesdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., January 9-February 27
VOC, Enrollment limit: 20

David Nitz was a faculty member in physics at St. Olaf College from 1979 to 2019. Among the courses he taught outside the core of the physics major were astronomy and musical acoustics. His research included the measurement of optical properties of atoms having applications in astrophysics. In his free time he enjoys cycling, cross country skiing, baking bread, reading, house and yard projects, and canoeing/star gazing in the Boundary Waters.


Overview:  This course will explore two topics in astronomy: (1) naked eye astronomy and (2) the nature of stars.  Part 1 will cover looking at the sky with the unaided eye – sun, moon, stars and planets – and addressing how what we observe changes over daily, weekly, and seasonal time scales. In Part 2 we will explore the outlines of the scientific detective story that begins with the collection of light with a telescope and ultimately leads to an understanding of the composition and life cycle of stars. 

Course Materials and Class Schedule:  Class members will learn to use the sky simulation software Stellarium (available online at and read selections from a textbook in conjunction with weekly course topics. The course will be lecture-based but include some group discussion coupled with in-class activities. We will make use of quantitative reasoning associated with concepts of elementary geometry, algebra and physics. Prior experience with these would be helpful but is not a requirement for the course. We will also arrange an optional evening session to do some star gazing with the aid of a telescope.

Textbook: OpenStax Astronomy (available online at Reading the text online is free; hard copies are available for purchase (see the “Order a print copy” link at the above address). Assigned readings will be selected from material in Chapters 2-5, 15-19, and 21-23 (chapters and sections indicated in brackets below).  Class members should also read Chapter 1 (which provides a brief introductory “tour”) and peruse end-of-chapter notes, which have plentiful recommendations for further reading and links to online resources. 

Part I. Naked Eye Astronomy
Class 1. The Celestial Sphere: Observing the sky from the perspective of an earth-bound observer; Some remarkable things our ancestors figured out.  OpenStax [2].  Getting oriented; Exploring the Celestial Sphere via computer simulation (Introduction to Stellarium); Movement of the sun, stars, moon, and planets; Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, Ptolemy and Copernicus.  
Class 2. (i) Finding your way around the sky [Stellarium]; (ii) The Earth-Sun system.   OpenStax [4.1 – 4.2].  Bright stars and constellations; Visualizing earth and its motion from different perspectives; Solstices and equinoxes, sunrise/sunset and transit through the seasons and for different locations; The solar analemma.
Class 3. (i) Earth-Sun system, continued OpenStax [4.2-4.3]  . (ii) Motion of the Moon, OpenStax [4.5-4.7].  Time keeping and calendar-making; Cycle of lunar phases; Eclipses; Tides; Lunar rotation.
Class 4. The Planets and their Orbits, OpenStax [3.1 – 3.5].  Venus in Mayan Astronomy; Tycho, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton; Applications of Kepler’s and Newton’s Laws in understanding our solar system.

Part II. Stellar Astronomy
Class 5. Starlight and How We Analyze It, OpenStax [5, 17].  Properties of light; Thermal radiation; Zooming in on the rainbow (atoms and spectra); Brightness, spectra, and proper motion of stars; Searching for exo-planets.
Class 6. A Celestial Census, OpenStax [18].  Distribution of nearby star types; Determining the mass and diameters of stars; The “HR diagram” and its patterns.
Class 7. Astronomy in 3D – Finding the Distance to Things, OpenStax[19].  What distances can we imagine? How does it help to know them? Parallax; “Standard candles” and the distance ladder; Determining our place in the Milky Way.
Class 8. Stellar Evolution, OpenStax [15.1, 16.1-16.3, 22, 23].  Structure of the Sun; Lifetime of main sequence stars; End-of-life pathways for low-mass and high-mass stars; White dwarves and supernovae; Neutron stars; Black holes.

Brian R. O’Donnell: The Pursuit of Happiness
8 Tuesdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., January 9-February 27 
Online via Zoom; Enrollment limit: 15

Brian O’Donnell is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University. He has investigated the psychology and biology of psychotic disorders and psychoactive drugs for several decades, supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and Indiana University.

Overview:  The right to pursue happiness is a foundational right of the United States. This class will focus on the experience and causes of happiness and its flip side, suffering. Should we make pleasure or happiness a central concern of existence, or try to maintain equanimity in the face of both pleasant and painful experiences? We will read and discuss religious, philosophical and scientific perspectives on the value and pitfalls of pursuing happiness. We will also examine the causes, treatment and prevention of severe depression, the most common mood disorder.

Course Materials and Class Schedule: Required text is Haybron, Daniel M., Happiness: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013), available through new for as little as $12 and used for as little as $6. Course materials will also include articles in pdf format distributed electronically, and online articles, podcasts, and videos that I hope all participants will read, listen to or watch accessed through links. In addition, I will provide a list of supplementary materials that participants may consult as they wish. There will be about 25 to 75 pages of reading for each class meeting. Course format will be discussion primarily with occasional brief presentations by the instructor. Participants will occasionally be asked to lead the discussion of an article.

Week 1: The Philosophers. Common readings/viewings: Alain de Botton on the Consolations of Philosophy (BBC videos): Episode 2: Epicurus on Happiness; Episode 6: Nietzsche on Hardship.
Please read one of the following articles on Stoicism: Claire Johnson: 5 Ways to be Happy According to Epictetus:;
Jules Evans: An interview with Martha Nussbaum on Neo-Stoicism. The History of Emotions Blog.

Week 2: Defining and measuring happiness. Haybron, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4

Week 3: Psychological, cultural and economic factors. Arthur C. Brooks, “Different Cultures Define Happiness Differently”, The Atlantic, July 15, 2021.
Elizabeth Colton, “Happiness”, American Anthropologist, 114, 6-8, 2012.
Richard Wiseman, “The Luck Factor”, SKEPTICAL INQUIRER The Magazine For Science And Reason, Volume 27, No.3 ~ May/June 2003.
Boucher, H.C. (2020), “Positive Illusions”, In Zeigler-Hill, V., Shackelford, T.K. (eds), Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham.

Week 4: Happiness on an Unequal Playing Field. Common Reading: Haybron, Chapter 5
Please choose two of these readings: Leah Rumac, “Poet Ross Gay explores a joy informed by deep sorrow”, Broadview. January 11, 2021.
Rachel Giese/Jill Filipovic, “Why do so many women feel like ‘stressed-out failures’?” Chatelaine, May 15, 2017.
The Trevor Project. 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.
David Brooks, “The Crisis of Men and Boys”, New York Times, Sept 29, 2022.

Week 5: Religious perspectives. Please choose three of these readings:
Samantha Rideout, “Does religion really make you happier?”, Broadview, July 4, 2016.
Kimberly Quinn Johnson, “Black Joy”, UUWorld
Khaled Abou el Fadl, “When Happiness Fails: An Islamic Perspective”, Journal of Law and Religion. 29, no. 1 (2014): 109–23
David Pelcovitz, “Jewish Perspectives on Happiness” (video on My Jewish Learning site)
Jan Willis, “Socially Engaged Buddhism: Suffering or Happiness?”, Tricycle Aug 13, 2010.

Week 6: Summing up; arguments against happiness. Common Reading: Haybron: Chapters 7, 8
Please choose two of these readings: Joshua Rothman, “The case for not being born”, New Yorker, Nov 27, 2017.
Eyal Winter, “Struggling With Positive Thinking? Research Shows Grumpy Moods Can Actually Be Useful”,
Nat Rutherford, “Why our pursuit of happiness may be flawed, BBC Future.
Ariel Levy, “A World Without Pain. Does hurting make us human?”, The New Yorker, January 13, 2020. 

Week 7: Disorders of Mood. Paul Andrews and J Anderson Thomson, Jr, “Depression’s Evolutionary Roots”, Scientific American Mind, January/February 2010.
Ellen Leibenluft, “Why Are So Many Women Depressed? Women’s Health: A Lifelong Guide”, Scientific American, 1998.
Joanna Moncrieff and Mark Horowitz, “Depression Is Probably Not Caused by a Chemical Imbalance in the Brain”.

Week 8 Medicine for the Melancholy. Andrew Scull, “Muzzling the black dog: The search for better ways to treat depression”, Times Literary Supplement (Issue 6200), Jan. 28, 2022.
Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld, “The Best Medicine? How drugs stack up against talk therapy for the treatment of depression”, Scientific American Mind, October/November 2007.
Brad Rassler, “13 Lessons to Make You Really, Truly Happy. Maybe”, Outside, Aug 27, 2018.

Jackie McNeil:  Establishing Roots Along the River—Northfield’s First Decade
8 Tuesdays; 1:30-3:30 pm, January 9-February 27
VOC, Enrollment limit: 20

Jackie McNeil has taught American history at the college level in Connecticut and is a recent Minnesota transplant. She firmly believes in “digging where you’re planted,” so is looking forward to digging into Northfield’s roots with some eager learners.

Overview:  Almost all Northfielders know that John North founded the town that bears his name in 1855, and they know that the James gang raided the First National Bank in 1876.  What is much less known and understood locally is Northfield before North, the clash of cultures between the Wahpekute and the early white settlers, how the town was actually settled and born, how war to the south and war in Minnesota shaped what Northfield became, and how Carleton came to be here (a later course might pick the story up from there and extend through and beyond the founding of St. Olaf in 1874).  Let’s dig into the primary sources and piece together Northfield’s early years. 

Course Materials and Class Schedule:  Our classes will be a combination of lecture, discussion and examination of primary sources. Throughout the course, students will work on different primary sources to develop a fuller picture of Northfield. We will share that work in pairs or small groups throughout the course but will use Week 8 to try to pull the whole picture together, setting aside time for each student to share their own insights into early Northfield from what they’ve seen & learned along the way. There is no course book, but students will be expected to do some research between classes, possibly in local libraries & archives, possibly online.

Week 1: Northfield before North
Week 2: Clash of cultures: The Wahpekute and the early white settlers
Week 3: Settling in: How a town is born
Week 4: War to the South
Week 5: War in Minnesota
Week 6: Building a Community
Week 7: Carleton’s founding
Week 8: Student presentations/Wrap up

Jan Linn: Is the Decline of Christianity in America a Good Thing, Bad Thing,
Neither or Both?
8 Tuesdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., January 9-February 27 
Online via Zoom; Enrollment limit: 15

Jan Linn is a retired minister, having served as a congregational pastor, college chaplain and faculty member at the University of Lynchburg in Virginia, and tenured member of the faculty at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He is the author of numerous books on church, ministry, and the relationship between religion and politics in America. He is also a novelist, with his debut novel, A Brother’s Peace, published by Sunstone Press in the fall of 2022. It is available in hardback, paperback, and E-Versions online and all book sellers. He can be reached at

Overview:  Based on the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Christian today compared to past years, the evidence suggests that Christianity is in numerical decline even though it remains the nation’s dominant religious tradition. The question is, is this decline a good thing, bad thing, neither, or both in regard to the impact Christianity has on American life? Does the real answer to this question depend upon how decline is actually measured? Is it possible that the numerical decline of Christianity actually represents a positive development for the nation and Christianity itself? The course will explore these questions through weekly discussion of various articles related to the subject that will be made available at the first session. Since this topic is a popular subject today, articles may be inserted in the reading list and used in class discussions during the course of study. 

Expanded Description: The course will consist of discussions based on the readings for each session, with the goal of gaining a broad and in-depth understanding of various points of view about the topic of the day that will aid class members in reaching their own conclusion about the role of Christianity in America today. The topics themselves for each class session are in fact arranged to illustrate there is no single perspective on the impact of Christianity on American life. The instructor will also make brief presentations of relevant material and historical context related to issues raised in the readings. Ultimately, this study is intended to help class members become more aware of and knowledgeable about the changes that are occurring in the relationship between Christianity and American culture today.  The readings, pulled together into a single document (about 70 pages total, arranged by class topic), will be sent by email attachment to students as a pdf and/or Word document ahead of the first class.

Week 1: Foundational Christian History: Watershed Moments (30 CE – 1517CE)
Week 2Foundational Christian History: Watershed Moments (1517CE – 2023CE)
Week 3: Is Christianity’s Decline A Good Thing for America?
Week 4: Is Christianity’s Decline A Bad Thing for America?
Week 5: Is Christianity’s Decline A Wash for America?
Week 6Should American Christians Be Alarmed By Decline?
Week 7: Does Christianity Need To be The Dominant American Religion? 
Week 8: Tying Up Loose Ends 

Mary Savina: What’s Opera, Doc?
8 Wednesdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., January 10-February 28
VOC, Enrollment limit: 20
Mary Savina head shot

Mary Savina is the Charles L. Denison Professor of Geology, Emerita at Carleton where she earned an undergraduate degree with majors in history and geology. Her Ph.D. is from UC Berkeley (in geology). Her research and teaching focuses on the interaction of humans with the physical landscape, including water in its various manifestations. Mary has accompanied Carleton students and/or alums to Greece, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Alaska and the deserts of the American Southwest. She was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2022.

Overview:  In this course, I will try to demonstrate why and how opera – a blend of music, theater and literature – can be much more than the sum of its parts. Though the classes (after the first one) are arranged in roughly chronological order and therefore cover a lot of territory, the emphasis will be on a few operas, ranging from nearly unknown to well-loved parts of the “standard repertory.”  Tentatively, they are Hercules (George Frederic Handel), Cosi fan Tutte (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), Otello (Giuseppe Verdi), Tosca (Giacomo Puccini), Peter Grimes (Benjamin Britten) and Dr. Atomic (John Adams). Three were composed in English and three in Italian. We won’t have time to do more than glance at the works of some other very important opera composers – and at the other works of the composers we will focus on. 

Course Materials and Class Schedule:  I will assign sections of William Berger’s 2002 book (with a foreword by Placido Domingo), The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Opera (Perigee Trade, 240 p.). It is available through at less than $15 new or $5 used.  Content may also be able to get used (and new) copies. I find Berger’s book accessible (no pre-existing knowledge of music needed) and reasonably comprehensive (he covers musical terms, composers, singers, and individual artists, among other topics). For instance, if you find some of the terms in the tentative schedule to be unfamiliar, you’ll find definitions in Berger’s book.  Additional readings will be distributed by email attachments and links (especially for things like videos).

I (Mary) am an opera buff, not a music historian or a musicologist.  I am most interested in how operas are constructed:  how the music, staging and text combine to make something that is different from (and frequently bigger than) any of them. I’m also interested in how operas reflect the times when they were written, and how modern productions reflect (or don’t) our own time. While I appreciate outstanding singing, instrumental playing, and staging, I’m not too interested in comparing singers, except to contrast their interpretations of roles.  Having said all that, I also take seriously the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium motto “the inquiring mind never rests,” so I will be reading other source material and using it to enhance the classes.

No promises, but I may be able to arrange a visiting speaker, in which case the following schedule will be modified. 

The “homework” for this class consists of reading plot summaries for the operas we will focus on each week and reading from the Berger book.  In some cases, these will be complemented by (generally optional) articles, podcasts, or other pieces of information.  I will distribute links for full opera recordings and key excerpts for each of the featured operas and many of the others we will touch on.  Listening (and/or watching) the entirety of each opera is optional. The final syllabus will also include the schedule for the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera broadcasts and information about opera performances in the Twin Cities.

Week 1 Introductions. What is it about opera? The building blocks (book/libretto/story, music, staging, orchestra, chorus, soloists) and how they are combined.  Compare two ensembles:  Rossini (L’Italiana in Algeri, end of Act I) and Donizetti (sextet, Lucia di Lammermoor).  Another kind of ensemble:  Mozart Le Nozze de Figaro, end of Act II (if there’s time). How to listen to music (and opera).  Suggested reading:  part of Aaron Copland, How to Listen to Music.  Review between-class assignments. 

Week 2 The start of opera: Monteverdi (Arianna) and Handel (Hercules); Opera seria and the da capo aria. Changing performance practices for Baroque operas.

Week 3 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and opera buffa: Cosi Fan Tutte (approaches to an ambiguous story that has some potential pitfalls for 21st century audiences); 20th century throwbacks to opera buffa (Richard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier and Igor Stravinsky The Rake’s Progress). A brief look at bel canto.

Week 4 Giuseppe Verdi: Otello (one of the perfect operas, in my opinion) and maybe a little Don Carlo. Converting great literature to opera. Character development: Opera villains. Perceptions of a conductor/general director:  James Conlon on Otello.

Week 5 Late Romantic opera:  Giacomo Puccini Tosca (another perfect opera, again in my opinion); verismo; Big, big scenes in opera; Directorial visions. 

Week 6 20th Century opera:  Benjamin Britten, Peter Grimes; Leoš Janáček The Cunning Little Vixen; later evolution of a vocal part created  for a particular individual; the chorus as a character; evocation of place; depicting nature, nature as a character in opera; serialists go to the opera (Alban Berg Wozzeck and Arnold Schoenberg  Moses und Aron).

Week 7 21st Century opera: John Adams, Dr. Atomic; using contemporary events as a basis for opera; playing with the historical record; interviews with John Adams and Peter Sellars (librettist and first director). 

Week 8 TBD, but certainly including a summary.

John Matthews: The Holocaust and the Churches
8 Wednesdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., January 10-February 28
Online via Zoom; Enrollment limit: 15

Rev. John Matthews is a retired ELCA pastor and former adjunct instructor of religion at Augsburg University. He is a past-president of The International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section and author of two books about the life and legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He and his wife, Patty, live in Apple Valley, Minnesota.

Overview: This course is designed for learning about and discussing the Holocaust (Shoah) of the 20th century in Europe, with significant attention given to the active and passive ways in which the churches/Christians were complicit in the genocide. For many, this topic is new; for some it is extremely disturbing; for still others, it is an occasion to become informed, sensitized and empowered to work for greater reconciliation between Christians and Jews. After an introductory presentation on the history of the Holocaust, each session will deal with a particular aspect of the church’s complicity in – and resistance to – the attempted annihilation of Europe’s Jews. Aspects include ‘cooperation’ of the church institutions (Catholic & Protestant), ‘coordination’ of the various faculties (including theological) in the universities, latent and explicit anti-Judaism in Christian tradition (past & present), and the exceptional situations where Christians and churches sought to rescue persons at risk. While awareness of the Holocaust is far from new, the church’s complicity remains a subject garnering very little attention. Join this important journey of discovery!’ 

Course Materials and Class Schedule: This course will make extensive use of the text: The Holocaust and the Christian World, Paulist Press, 2019, eds. Carol Rittner, Stephen Smith & Irena Steinfeldt (available through new for as little as $31).

Week 1: Introduction – Get-Acquainted – Goals – Anxieties – Expectations
Week 2: The Holocaust in Historical Perspective – Nationalism, Wars and Depression
Week 3: Christian Anti-Judaism – A Necessary (but not sufficient) Element
Week 4: The Catholic Church – Complexity & Complicity – Pius XII
Week 5: The German Protestant Churches – Confession & Confusion
Week 6: Resistance & Rescuers – Individuals and Institutions
Week 7: Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Christian Saint and/or Political Martyr?
Week 8: ‘Conclusions’ – Lessons – Remembrances

Dave Hagedorn: Jazz Appreciation
(Repeat of Winter 2023 Course)
8 Wednesdays 1:30-3:30 p.m., January 10-February 28
VOC, Enrollment limit: 15 

Dave Hagedorn is a percussionist and retired college jazz band director. Jazz I at St. Olaf College won two DownBeat student music awards under his leadership, and also toured Cuba in 2016. Currently, he performs regularly in Northfield and the Twin Cities. Hagedorn holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music, The New England Conservatory and University of Minnesota.

Overview:  This course is designed to enhance understanding of jazz by making students aware of how composition and improvisation intersect and change through history.  We will study the music from its beginnings to the present, with a large emphasis on listening skills. No musical experience is required, but you need to be able to count to 4 and group those counts, normally in sections of 4, 8, 12, 16 and 32. Many recordings will be used for more than just a unit, so listening will get more in depth. Most of the recordings will be available on YouTube, and the instructor will send mp3 recordings of those that are not. In order to have time for comparison, we will not listen to entire recordings in class. Though the volume of listening in preparation for class looks large in the syllabus below because of the number of pieces and partial pieces we will cover, students should expect to have to allocate roughly two hours per class to listening

Course Description and Class Schedule: The class is organized by topic and then discussed historically each week.  This will point out innovations through time on each instrument, rather than dealing with a specific time period each week.  A week is also devoted to Minnesota musicians, and the last week for current trends. Performers studied are the primary innovators on specific instruments, so there will be a number of players not studied.

A textbook will be used to help navigate through the recordings. This book is organized so you can use clock time to reinforce hearing the events that happen in the music. The book has many more examples than we can cover in an 8-week class, so would be a great resource for further study on your own. Jazz Essential Listening, second edition, Scott Deveaux and Gary Giddins, W.W. Norton, 2019, ISBN: 978-0-393-66739-4; paperback new: $116.25; digital version with playback: $39.95. The first edition, though more affordable, does not have quite all the examples listed below, but it does have most, so we can make it work. Used paperback copies of it on available for as little as $6; 2+ month rental for $18.98; the instructor is also able to share a free downloaded pdf of the first edition if requested. The last two sessions involve music with Minnesota connections, and current artists, so the textbook does not have listening guides for that music.

Week 1: What is Jazz? recording, Leonard Bernstein from 1956. YouTube Please listen to this before the first class – 42 minutes long.  It is a great introduction to the styles and forms that are present in jazz, and Bernstein does some comparisons to classical music. We can refer to this for discussions throughout the entire term. In this class we will explore several elements of jazz: the instruments–brass (solo and section), woodwinds (solo and section); rhythm section; forms and arrangements–blues, free form/atonality, small groups/large ensembles; styles and innovations. A list of what students should listen to in preparation for this and all other classes will be shared with enrolled students once the class membership is determined.
Week 2: The trumpet
Week 3: Alto and Tenor Saxophones
Week 4: Piano
Week 5: Big band
Week 6: Vocalists
Week: 7 Minnesota/Twin Cities Connections
Week 8: Current and Fusion

Dan Dressen: Tone and Text and Musico-Poetic Synthesis
(Repeat of Winter 2023 course)
8 Thursdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., January 11-February 29
VOC, Enrollment limit: 15 

Dan Dressen is Professor Emeritus of Music at St. Olaf College, where he recently completed his forty-year appointment. In addition to his teaching duties, he served in several administrative capacities: Music Department Chair, Associate Dean for the Fine Arts and Associate Provost. In November of 2021, he completed his term as President of the National Association of Schools of Music. An active performer in opera, concerts, recitals and ensembles, his career of over four decades found him performing throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, nationally and internationally.

Overview:  Song, the most ubiquitous musical form, shares with other vocal musical forms the unique function of projecting literary and musical ideas simultaneously. This aesthetic quality presents abundant opportunities for both creator (poet/composer) and recreator (vocal/instrumental performers). It also presents particular challenges in realizing a synchronicity to which one aspires when fusing these two disparate mediums. The course will examine the anatomy of song and how musical ideas can effectively support the embedded rhythms and structure of poetry, and provide an interpretive subtext and image related to poetic meaning, all with the aim of developing a deeper understanding of the genre. 

Course Materials and Class Schedule: We will begin with an introductory presentation on the science of voice and singing, and a discussion about the human impulse to sing and its effect on the performer and listener. Though the primary lens of our study will focus on art song (songs created primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries by composers in the European classical tradition), we will apply knowledge and techniques learned to songs from more antique eras and vernacular song forms as well. At the end of the course, we will host two exceptional musical artists with a deep passion and abundant experience in the performance of song. Mezzo soprano Clara Osowski and pianist Sonja Thompson will discuss their approach to preparing songs for performance. Details about each of these guest artists will be provided at the top of the course.
Readings and materials: With one exception, all readings will be pdfs supplied by the instructor. The one exception will be the video, The Singing Revolution is available for digital download via the official website for the documentary at The price for a download for personal use is $12.95 plus tax. For those who subscribe to Apple TV it is available to rent for $3.99.

Week 1 (January 11): How Can I Keep From Singing? In this session we reveal and discuss the human impulse to sing, singing’s connection to identity and persona, and the benefits gained from singing. We will also consider the specialized vocabulary associated with singing, song and song form. 
Readings and Viewings: James Tusty and Maureen Castle Tusty, Documentary Film: “The Singing Revolution”.  Eric Friesen, “The Human Singing Voice,” Chorus America-The Voice, Fall 2012. 

Week 2 (January 18): A) The Science of Voice and Singing-Phonation, Resonance and Articulation. In this session we will discuss the anatomical and acoustical elements at work in human speech and singing. B) Meaning in Music. We will also explore several philosophies about music and meaning. This topic has engaged scholars and philosophers for centuries and is an important one to explore within the context of merging language with music into a unified expression.
Readings: Colapinto, John: Giving Voice; New Yorker-Mar 04, 2013 (edited); Voice Science Works video:; Copland, Aaron: What To Listen For In Music, pp 9-19; Samama, Leo: The Meaning of Music, pp 27-35 and 76-83.

Week 3 (January 25): The Anatomy of Song – 1. The essence of musico-poetic synthesis will be our focus in the next two sessions. In this meeting we will study the nature of poetic construction and how it is mirrored (or not) in the architecture of song form and musical devices.  
Readings: Ivey, Donald, Song – Anatomy, Imagery and Styles, Chapter 1, “Meter in German and English Song”.

Week 4 (Feb 1): The Anatomy of Song – 2 . We continue our exploration of how the elements of language and music combine with the objective to create a perfect synthesis between poetic and musical structures. We will analyze closely how this aspiration manifests in specific examples of song literature. 
Readings: Thomson, Virgil: Music with Words, Chapter 1, “A Formal Introduction to the Subject”, pp1-15; Chapter 2, “Word-Groupings” pp16-21.

Week 5 (Feb 8): The Projection of Image. Building on our previous topic that focused on the mechanical and structural correspondence shared by music and poetry in song, we move to the ways music can provide meaningful significance to the image the poet intended to project and the poem’s emotional content, aspiring to an essential synthesis of poetry and music. 
Readings: Thomson, Virgil, Music with Words, Chapter 8 “The Musical Idea”, pp 44-49; Chapter 9 “Both Words and Emotions Are Important”, pp 50-53; Chapter 12 “After All.”, pp 74-76.

Week 6 (Feb 15): Song Form. In this session we will explore various iterations of song form and methods of expanding this normally miniature form.
Readings: Thomson, Virgil, Music with Words, Chapter 3, “Occasions for Singing”, pp 22-25; Stein, Deborah and Spillman, Robert, Poetry into Song, Chapter 9 “Form in the German Lied. pp 191-207; Tunbridge, Laura, Cambridge Introductions of Music: The Song Cycle, Chapter 1 “Concepts” pp 1-22.

Week 7 (Feb 22): A) The Vocabulary of Musical Styles and Its Manifestation in Song; B) An Application of Our Method of Analysis to Vernacular Styles of Music. Each age or era in music contains its unique vocabulary that informs the nature of musical expression and form, including that for voice. In this session we will explore how song composition mirrors and is shaped by the parameters of a particular era and its culture. Our study will expand into song outside of the classical tradition to include more popular styles. 
Readings: Potter, John, Cambridge Companion to Singing, Chapter 9 “European Art Song”; Stephen Varcoe and Tunbridge, Laura, Cambridge Introductions of Music: The Song Cycle, Chapter 11 “Rebirth” pp 169-186; Dylan, Bob, The Philosophy of Modern Song, Selected readings.

Week 8 (Feb 29): Applying Our Understanding of Song and Musico-Poetic Synthesis. For our final session we will host two remarkable artists—mezzo soprano Clara Osowski and pianist Sonja Thompson—who have chosen to focus deeply on the performance of song as a major focus of their professional work. We will have the opportunity to discuss with them their process and methods for preparing to perform songs.

Daniel Sullivan and Fred Ohles:  What’s Up With American Higher Education?
8 Thursdays, 1:30-3:30 pm, January 11-February 29
Online via Zoom; Enrollment limit: 15

Daniel Sullivan is President Emeritus of St. Lawrence University and former president of Allegheny College, former (2008) chair of the board of directors of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), and former (2006-2016) chair of the AAC&U Presidents’ Trust.  He is currently chair of the CVEC Curriculum Committee.

Fred Ohles is President Emeritus of Nebraska Wesleyan University.  He has a strong Northfield relationship: graduated from Carleton in 1975, then completed a Ph.D. in comparative history at Brandeis in 1981.  He served as Associate Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Development, with additional responsibility for international programs, and Associate Professor of History at St. Olaf College from 1990-1996.

Overview:  This course engages a series of major questions and controversies in American higher education today such as:  What should the aims and objectives of higher education be?  How well are colleges and universities achieving the student and societal outcomes America expects of them?  Are they gates to opportunity, or do they solidify or even make worse existing socioeconomic and racial inequalities?  Why does college cost so much?  Who pays what for college and why?  Why can’t a college be more like a firm?  Why is it that the wealthiest colleges and universities educate the smallest number of low-income students?  Are intercollegiate athletics, student life activities, internships, etc. becoming the tail wagging the dog of “real” learning – so much that what used to be considered the core reason for going to college is becoming just the tail?  What are free speech and academic freedom, exactly, in the collegiate context and why is there so much controversy around these issues today?  Will there soon be a massive shake-out in American higher education resulting in large numbers of college closings and mergers?  

Course Materials and Class Description:  Classes will involve readings and their critical discussion, led by two former independent college presidents.  Come prepared to share, opine, listen and think.  A complete syllabus specifying the readings for each week (3-5 articles/chapters, 50-60 pages per week) will be emailed to enrolled students well before the first class.  Readings, for which there will be a separate fee of $13, will be copied and bound together into a course book and mailed to students.  

Week 1:  What should the aims and objectives of higher education be?  Disciplinary/content knowledge?  Higher-order skills?  Job training?  Civic understanding and civic engagement?  All of them? 

Week 2:  Given alternatives about what the aims and objectives of higher education should be, how does that affect how higher education should be organized—what colleges and universities actually do?  Research; intercollegiate athletics; study abroad; work-study; student health and career advising programs; residential life?  For example, European universities do not have intercollegiate athletics and most leave students to find their own food and housing in the surrounding community.  American colleges and universities have, from the very beginning, been almost exclusively residential—described sometimes as “academical villages.”  Why?  Is our history our destiny?  What are the claimed benefits of organizing colleges that way?

Week 3:  Why can’t a college be more like a firm?  Why does college cost so much?  Who pays what for college and why?  Is the business model broken?  

Week 4:  Why do the wealthiest colleges educate the fewest low-income students?  Is this right?  Are colleges and universities gates to opportunity, or do they solidify or even make worse existing socioeconomic and racial inequalities?  Was affirmative action a good thing?  What, if anything, should replace it?  

Week 5:  What are free speech and academic freedom, exactly, in the collegiate context and why is there so much controversy around these issues today?  What are the free speech and academic freedom issues most in play on campuses today?  

Week 6:  How well are colleges and universities achieving the student and societal outcomes America expects of them?  America has been pretty good at enabling students to enter college—how well do we do in facilitating students’ completion of college? 

Week 8:  As was the case from 1978 through the mid-1990’s, we are about to see a substantial decline in the U. S. traditional age college-going population.  Will there soon be a massive shake-out in American higher education resulting in large numbers of college closings and mergers?  What might a sustainable, effective, American system of higher education conceived and organized to prepare students for the realities of our and their future look like?  How could it come into being?

Tim Madigan: Pivotal Decade, The 1970s – Its Music, Politics & Culture
(Repeat of Fall 2022 course)
“Oh, and there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space.”
Don McLean – American Pie
8 Thursdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., January 11-February 29
NCCC, Enrollment limit: 20

Tim Madigan retired after 35 years in the city management profession in five Minnesota cities, including Northfield and Faribault. He started his professional career as a high school history teacher and later served as an adjunct faculty member at Minnesota State University Mankato.

Overview:  This course will visit the transition of American society during the 1970s through the optics of music, politics, and culture. Not intended to be a complete history of the period, we will investigate the major themes and unique aspects of the time through video clips, music, readings, and discussion of provocative issues. Student interaction and discussion will be encouraged, including personal memories.

Course Materials and Class Schedule: The purpose of the course is to explore the American experience and historical impact of the 1970s on class members and our country via lectures, videos, music, books, articles, and student personal recollections. 

Books/Materials Required: How We Got Here, David Frum (available through as low as $16.79 new or $4.74 used). OptionalSomething Happened: A Political & Cultural Overview of the 1970s, Edward Berkowitz. Movies/videos required: “Muscle Shoals” (available on YouTube for rent at $3.99 HD or purchase at $12.99), “Shaft” (available on YouTube for rent at $2.99 HD or purchase at $9.99 HD), and “Saturday Night Fever” (available on YouTube for rent at $3.99 HD or purchase at $13.99 HD).

Week One: Overview of class and schedule of topics, readings, etc. Share personal experiences. Assignment: Read the lyrics and listen to American Pie – be prepared to discuss the importance of the song to the culture of the 70s and the meanings of the lyrics. 

Week Two: National Politics – Political Party Realignment, Leadership Success and Failures. Assignments: Video of Ted Kennedy’s 1980 Convention Speech; Music: The Beatles “Let it Be”.

Week Three: Foreign Policy – Vietnam War, China, Iranian Crisis. Assignment: Watch movie: Muscle Shoals; Music: Transition of Country Western Music; Possible presenter to discuss Vietnam War.

Week Four: Race Relations – Electoral Politics, Revolutionary Movements, Sports & Music. Assignment: Watch “Shaft”; Video Clip: Pittsburgh Pro Sports in the 70s, the City of Champions – Sports & Race; Music: The move to Hip Hop & Jazz Rock Fusion. 

Week Five: “Me Generation” Culture – Values, Social Structures & Technology. Assignment: Read “The Me Generation,” by Tom Wolfe; Music: Hard Rock—Heavy Metal.

Week Six: American Cities: Growth, Crime & Decline. Assignment: Watch “Saturday Night Fever”; Video Clip: Film- “The Godfather”; Music: Disco, R&B.

Week Seven: Social Change – Women’s & Gay Rights Movements, Death of Mainline Religion. Music: “YMCA”, Village People; “Gotta Change My Way of Thinking”, Bob Dylan. 

Week Eight: Impact of the “70s” 50 Years later. Music: “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, Simon & Garfunkel.

Paul Kluge: Vietnam History, Myths, and Misunderstandings
(Repeat of Spring 2023 Course)
8 Fridays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., January 12-March 1
Kildahl, Enrollment limit: 20

Paul Kluge: Retired as15-year Human Resource Specialist at a large processing plant. Raised on a NW Wisconsin dairy farm. Briefly attended UW-Stout after four years in U.S. Army Intelligence, involving the Vietnam War. Occasional speaker at Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other special events. Author of two novels: Weeds of War: Those Who Bled at Dien Bien Phu, and Irish Weeds: Those Who

Overview:  This course explores the history of Vietnam and how that small country found itself a political proxy between world powers in multiple wars. Unintended consequences will be noted and discussed in class. Now a viable and independent state, Vietnam’s relative modernization and recent success in the global market has come on the heels of incalculable death and mayhem over decades. U.S.A. military involvement ended with misunderstandings and myths that stilted America’s self-image and blunted a significant degree of American statesmanship worldwide. Course focus is on the two greater wars of Vietnam since WW II. Dispassionately reviewing available history long removed from the glare of media, politics, and other state and world tensions may provide a degree of closure to certain veterans, veteran families, and American citizens in general. The sharing of ‘war stories’ carries the potential to pierce the dark.  

Course Materials and Class Schedule:  A memoir, Tiger Hound 2: How We Won the War & Lost the Country by Military Intelligence Professional, Ken Welch, who served in Vietnam for eight years, is required. “We all had honorable intentions. We found ourselves conducting wars that were kept secret from the American public, and from each other, but not from the enemy.” His book will be available for $10 at the first class. A typical class will include mini-lecture, video, and engagement with class members based on homework readings distributed in class and a reading from Welch’s book. Activities will adapt to class member needs. Time will be made available for those who wish to share.

Week 1: Generalized Vietnam video/map. Reading: Welch, Preface and The Beginning.
Week 2: “Joan of Arc” & other VN heroes. Vietnam Magazine and distribution. Reading: Welch, J2 Recon and Idiots Rule.
Week 3: Class Member / Experience Discussion. Vietnam Magazine reports. Reading: Welch, Not So Secret.
Week 4: Colony Era, France. Asian WW II video / articles discussion. Reading: Welch, Tiger Hound.
Week 5: WW II (France, Japan, Allies). Dien Bien Phu video / articles discuss. Reading: Welch, Redcatchers.
Week 6: Weeds of War Presentation. Video of Anti-War & Discussion. Reading, Welch: Redcatchers at War.
Week 7: Confluence of Civil Rights/Anti-War. Veteran’s Widow, guest speaker. Reading: Welch, Phoenix Program. 
Week 8: “How We Won the War and Lost the Country.” Stats/chart/demeanor –wrap discuss. Reading: Welch, The End.

Ed Langerak: Aging is Hard—Can Philosophy Help?
8 Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., January 12-March 1 
Kildahl, Enrollment limit: 15

Ed Langerak is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St Olaf College, where he taught for 40 years. He has taught seven Elder Collegium courses on such topics as the role of religion in public life, mortality and the meaning of life, and topics in ethics.

Overview:  Aging, like life itself, can be beautiful, but it can also be hard and what makes life hard can be amplified by aging. Infirmity, loneliness, grief, failure, and injustice can threaten to make life seem absurd. What have philosophers said that might provide hope for seeing it as worthwhile, if not fulfilling? Although we will not ignore theological contributions to this discussion, the emphasis will be on what various secular philosophers have contributed, including ancient ones such as Aristotle and the stoics, and modern and contemporary ones, such as Thomas Nagel and Susan Wolf.

Course Materials and Class Schedule: Our main text will be Life is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way by Kieran Setiya (Penguin Random House (Riverhead Books), 2022, ISBN 9781529153378). I will ask Content Bookstore to order some new copies; used and new copies can be purchased for as little as $12 online at Here is Setiya’s website: where he has links to his podcast and substack, etc. Other writings will be provided either by email attachments or by free hard copy. This will be a discussion-oriented course; weekly emails will provide some context and suggest questions worth discussing.

Organizing this course around Setiya’s book elevates breadth over depth; any one of his chapters could be developed into a separate book. Sacrificing depth for breadth can, of course, be unhelpful, but life is short and sometimes it is helpful to engage an overview of the darker side of the human condition.

First week: Philosophy is hard; can aging help? A selection (provided) from David Maitland’s Aging: A Time for New Learning. Are you more open to new ideas than you were when you were younger? Do you find yourself exploring questions as much as answers? What have you learned (or looked for) that makes you want to take a course like this?
Second week: Infirmity. Setiya, Preface, Introduction and Chapter 1. 
Third week: Loneliness. Setiya, Chapter 2; Valerie Tiberius, “The Value of Others.”
Fourth week: Grief. Setiya, Chapter 3; selections from Epicurus and Epictetus.
Fifth week: Failure. Setiya, Chapter 4; Selections on life as narrative.
Sixth week: Injustice. Setiya, Chapter 5; selections on “Why be moral?”
Seventh week: Absurdity and meaning. Setiya, Chapter 6; selections from Nagel and Wolff.
Eighth week: Death and Hope. Setiya, Chapter 7; selections on life before death.